Friday, 31 July 2020 11:25

Digital platforms face $10m fines if no news content deals negotiated Featured

Digital platforms face $10m fines if no news content deals negotiated Image by Alexas_Fotos from Pixabay

It looks like the days of freeloading for American digital platforms will end when the clock strikes midnight on 31 December. Unless, of course, the likes of Google and Facebook go crying to [US President] Uncle Donald Trump and ask him to give naughty Scott Morrison a rap on the knuckles to stop Australia from charging these two companies almighty fines for their use of Australian news content.

Treasurer Josh Frydenberg, who might have just done enough to filch the title of Man of Steel from John Winston Howard, made it plain on Friday morning that the party was over and that Google and Facebook would have to fork out big fees to traditional news outlets, of face fines of up to 10% of their local turnover which could come to as much as $10 million.

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission has indicated that its draft code of conduct had been released and would be open for comment until the end of August.

The code is meant to govern the commercial dealings between these digital behemoths and Australian media organisations.

Legislation to enshrine the code in law is expected during the session of Parliament to be held shortly after the consultation period ends.

Frydenberg said the code would create that mythical entity, a "level playing field".

"We want Google and Facebook to continue to provide these services to the Australian community, which are so much loved and used by Australians," he said. "But we want it to be on our terms.

"We want it to be in accordance with our law and we want it to be fair."

Google and Facebook will be the first two digital platforms to be governed by the code; Frydenberg said he would decide later on which other digital platforms would come under the ambit of the code.

Platforms that are covered by the code will have to negotiate payments with media outlets in "good faith", something that Google and Facebook are not known for.

Communications Minister Paul Fletcher said the code did not place a fixed value on content or attempt to limit the kind of agreement that the digital platforms worked out with media outlets.

"The code contemplates that it could be one of more possibilities, it could be a fixed annual sum or it could be a payment per item of content," he said.

And, if companies refused to negotiate, the Frydenberg indicated that he had a big stick in reserve, with penalties which could go as high as 10% of the company's Australian turnover (ouch!).

As to the eligibility of news organisations to benefit from these payments, judgment will be made by the Australian Communications and Media Authority.

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Sam Varghese has been writing for iTWire since 2006, a year after the site came into existence. For nearly a decade thereafter, he wrote mostly about free and open source software, based on his own use of this genre of software. Since May 2016, he has been writing across many areas of technology. He has been a journalist for nearly 40 years in India (Indian Express and Deccan Herald), the UAE (Khaleej Times) and Australia (Daily Commercial News (now defunct) and The Age). His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.





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